On the sidewalk outside the market, rows of old women sit on wooden stools, kerchiefs tied around their heads, their bicycles resting against trees and posts. They sell jars of chestnuts and berries, bags of garlic and mushrooms and squash, reused plastic bottles of fresh milk and cream, and socks. There’s one women who frequently displays a small pile of hand-knit socks. Some of them are garishly colorful, some are more natural hues. I decided to buy some for Nasstasja’s birthday. I hadn’t the slightest idea her foot size, so I bought three different pairs, just to be safe. ________________________________________
There’s a game I really like to play: a group of people sits in a circle, and each person gets a piece of paper and writes down a sentence, preferably one with a lot of visual elements. Everyone then passes their paper to the right, and now each person has to draw a picture illustrating the sentence they received. The papers are passed again, and now, without looking at the original sentence, each person much construct a sentence based on the picture. This continues until the papers have been passed back around to their originators.
I played this game at Nasstasja’s birthday party last week, which is a pretty normal thing to do. I also played it in Hungarian, something not normal for me until now. I was aided, of course, by my omnipresent Hungarian/English dictionary.
Thankfully, the sentences were not allowed to be complicated. Out of the seven women sitting around the table, only two spoke Hungarian as their native language. But the others were rapidly progressing towards fluency. Two were German volunteers working as nannies for local families. The two other volunteers I have already mentioned – the German and and Luxembourgian, Nasstasja and Marielle, respectively – work with elderly and homebound by providing companionship and physical assistance. And then there was me (I) – the American English teacher, the only one not required to speak large amounts of Hungarian every day. I felt a little behind in the common-spoken-language area, which of course only increased my resolve to learn more.
Our common language was Hungarian, but the conversations around the goody-laden table also took place in German and English, and we laughed about how two ethnic Hungarians, three Germans, one Luxembourgian, and one American found themselves together in a small flat in Ukraine. We ate cake and salad, we told the Hungarians about our jobs, the Hungarians told us about memories of communism, Marielle brought out her guitar.
There were also, of course, the presents. I don’t think any of them were wrapped – just chocolate bars, knitted slippers, some balloons, and hand-knit socks, all sitting on desk. I brought out all three pairs of the socks and let Nasstasja pick the size that fit her best. The largest, more colorful pair was chosen, and that leaves me with two pairs of lovely, rather tiny, pairs of socks.
I haven’t yet decided what to do with them; they probably will only fit a child’s foot, and the amount of small children in my life is dismally low. Though I imagine, given the number of weddings I have attended in the past three years, that will change. In the mean time, these birthday party remnants are sitting in my room, looking very homey and cozy.